Eduardo Campos, the popular scion of an influential Brazilian political family and the potential kingmaker in the country’s upcoming presidential elections, was killed in a plane crash near Sao Paulo on Wednesday.
Mr. Campos, 49, died when the private jet on which he was travelling with aides crashed into a residential area in the coastal city of Santos, about 50 kilometres east of Sao Paulo. The two pilots, two assistants, a photographer and a filmmaker were also killed. Three people on the ground were injured in the crash.
Mr. Campos, the former governor of the northern state of Pernambuco, was the presidential candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party and considered perhaps the most promising politician of his generation.
An economist by training, he had a reputation as being pro-business but left-leaning in his views on social issues, and he evoked a passionate devotion among his supporters, who came from many strata of Brazilian political life. During his seven-year term as governor, his economically marginal state saw significant improvements in health and public security.
Mr. Campos was a close confidant of the union leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was first elected president in 2002, and served as a minister in his cabinet. His party went on to support the government of Mr. da Silva’s anointed successor, Dilma Rousseff, but he broke away to run against her this year, presenting himself as a “third way,” an alternative to Brazil’s two most established political parties.
He chose as his running mate Marina Silva, a high-profile environmentalist. Ms. Silva is an indigenous woman and an evangelical Christian, and captured 20 per cent of the vote when she herself ran for president in the last election. Her alliance with Mr. Campos made them a formidable team.
Ms. Silva had been slated to fly with Mr. Campos on Wednesday, but changed her plans at the last minute.
Mr. Campos sat firmly in third place in polls on October’s presidential election (hovering at about 10 per cent of the vote), but in a race that looks increasingly tight, he had the potential ability to decide between Ms. Rousseff and her Workers’ Party and Aecio Neves’s more right-leaning Brazilian Social Democracy Party in a runoff.
He had wooed the business community by criticizing Ms. Rousseff’s handling of economic issues (she favours strong state intervention), but had also appealed to much of her base by saying he would not change many of the Workers’ Party’s popular social policies.
Ricardo Ismael, a political scientist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro who is himself from Pernambuco, said Mr. Campos was an unusually effective leader. “He demanded results from his team in the state government and he knew how to administer.” He was seen as opposing corruption and prioritizing better quality public services. “With his death, we lose someone who was trying.”
Mr. Campos was eager to bring change, but also willing to engage with traditional power structures, the professor said. “People who think they can build the new Brazil by just erasing the old one are misled. You have to deal with the old Brazil that is there.” Mr. Campos did that, he said, and had also shown he was able to engage and inspire young voters, who are increasingly alienated from Brazilian politics.
Ms. Rousseff, with whom Mr. Campos maintained a close relationship despite opposing her, and Mr. Neves are expected to attend his funeral in Recife on Thursday. “All of Brazil is mourning,” the president said in a statement. “Today we lost a great Brazilian, Eduardo Campos. We lost a great comrade.”
His party has 10 days to decide if Ms. Silva will run in his place. Running as an extreme outsider candidate in 2010, she startled the Brazilian establishment by capturing 20 million votes. “It’s too early to make any predictions, but if Marina Silva is his substitute … this changes the political scenario deeply,” said Fabio Wanderley Reis, political scientist and professor emeritus at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. “Not only because of her personal strength, but also because of the impact his death, her political partner’s death, will have. This likely makes her a stronger candidate.”
But she is seen as less able to forge political alliances than the more flexible Mr. Campos was.
The plane, a Cessna 560XL, was flying from the domestic airport in Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo, and air authorities say they lost contact with it mid-morning amid bad weather in Sao Paulo. Eyewitnesses told TV Globo that the plane was already on fire when it started to plunge.
Mr. Campos was the grandson of Miguel Arraes, who also served as governor, and was an outspoken opponent of Brazil’s military dictatorship. He is survived by his wife Renata and their five children, including an infant son.
With a report from Manuela Andreoni in Rio de Janeiro